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Applauding Big Thinking

[Editor’s note: Julia Boyd is a grandparent and parent of 3 public school children and chair of the ACORN education committee.]

The agreement announced on Wednesday by the UFT and Mayor Bloomberg will mean more money for New York’s neediest schools and real incentives to help educators succeed. Kudos to UFT President Randi Weingarten for her willingness to think big and develop just the kind of innovative approach that might actually help retain our best teachers in some of our toughest schools.

The plan isn’t merit pay. It’s $20 million for 200 of New York’s lowest performing schools. The money will go to the entire school – not just individual teachers. A team, made up of teachers and administrators, will decide how best to allocate the money at their local school to continue to boost performance. It’s an incentive for an entire school’s staff – teachers and principals – to come together and improve student achievement. And it recognizes that talented professionals who choose to work in some of New York’s toughest schools need and deserve support for the work that they do.

Some people are already attacking the plan – saying it will further encourage teachers to teach to tests and will put added pressure on schools to increase scores. They don’t get it. The single most important thing we can do to help students succeed is to find a way to retain our best and most committed teachers in our toughest schools. It’s a savvy investment that will boost morale and a simple recognition that teachers in these schools deserve some credit when their students succeed.

Every time anyone does anything bold in public education the knives come out. But it’s important that we step back and give Randi and the UFT credit for being the first union in any major city in the country that’s willing to experiment and slaughter some sacred cows to improve student performance. We’re going to need more bold thinking and more willingness to experiment if we are ever going to turn things around at low performing schools. The UFT calls itself a union of professionals. Today it really earned the name.

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